Everything You Need to Know About Schisandra
You could go a lifetime without ever even hearing about this rather obscure vine fruit, but once you learn about all the benefits it can bring to the table, you’ll be thankful that you didn’t.
A twining shrub native to Asia and North America, the drupes of this deciduous climber are also known to the Chinese as “wu wei zi” which translates to five flavor fruit.
Why, you ask? Well, these fantastic fruits possess all five flavors associated with classic Chinese medicine: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and pungent (spicy).
Measuring roughly 1cm in diameter with a lustrous red hue, they don’t look particularly remarkable. They grow in bunches like common grapes.
They resemble blueberries in shape. If you saw them in the wild, you’d probably assume them to be poisonous, but on the contrary, these are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet.
Schisandra: What Is it Used For?
Despite the many flavors whirling around in this nebulous miracle fruit, it’s very rarely used as an ingredient in meals. It won’t normally find a place in the fruit bowl along with favorites such as bananas, oranges, and apples either.
So, what the heck is it used for?
Schisandra is used almost exclusively as a medicinal ingredient, especially in China where it’s thought to be beneficial to “qi”, the essential life force shared by all living beings. Sounds pretty good, right?
Schisandra: What Does it Taste Like?
Even though you’re unlikely to find them in any cuisine, Schisandra berries are completely edible — seeds and all. So, if you get the opportunity to try one, I highly recommend that you do.
In terms of what you can expect regarding flavor and texture, picture a cross between red currants and goji berries. Sprinkle on a bit of salt, and that’s around about what schisandra berries taste like.
You won’t find anything else like them in the entire natural world. The unique combinations of flavors balance out almost perfectly against one another, providing a truly tongue-twisting, mind-boggling experience.
What’s in a Name? The Many Titles of Schisandra
It’s fairly common for certain fruits and herbs to amass a collection of names, but schisandra berries have so many names, there’s an element of split personality to their story, a vaguery that only enhances their almost mythic mystique.
As I’ve already touched upon, the Chinese sometimes refer to them as wu wei zi, or five flavor fruit. The standard western spelling of schisandra can also mutate into schizandra.
The Japanese may refer to them as gomishi, and in Korea, they become emija. The list goes on: ngu mie gee, herb of five tastes, Chinese magnolia vine, lemon wood, omicha.
And these are just the common names.
I know schisandra is starting to sound more like a character of noble birth in Game of Thrones than a fruit or herb, but as you’re about to see, there are countless reasons these humble berries are so revered.
Schisandra: A Brief History
First used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat numerous ailments, such as fatigue, asthma, and to resist infections, schisandra has a long medicinal history.
It’s unknown when its medical benefits were initially discovered, but the first example of it having been used can be found in Pen T’shao Kang Mu, a 1596 work on ancient Chinese medicine written by Li Shih Chen.
Despite China being the center of schisandra diversity, it was introduced to Europe via Eastern Russia in the 1850s.
The former Soviet Union conducted extensive research on it in the 1950s, experimenting with its efficacy as an adaptogen to enhance concentration and endurance.
The true medicinal potential of schisandra hasn’t truly been tapped yet in Europe.
It’s not certain why it hasn’t received the attention it has elsewhere in the world, but thankfully, that’s starting to change — part of the reason I wrote this article.
Benefits of Schisandra
It’s really no surprise that the Chinese use such a general term for wellness as qi (life force) when describing the benefits of schisandra, as it can be used to treat a myriad of ailments, both chronic and benign.
- Anti-Aging – Schisandra is practically exploding with antioxidants, but we’re not just talking clear, supple skin here, folks. We’re talking reduced muscle degradation, and improved insulin sensitivity — full-blown fountain of youth stuff!
Perhaps most significant of all the anti-aging qualities of schisandra is that it doesn’t just fight off the symptoms of aging, but it can actually extend our life span.
- Hormone Balancing – Similar to sea moss, as an adaptogen, schisandra can be instrumental in balancing out hormones and keeping both our body and mind feeling centered.
- De-Stressing – This is sort of a subcategory of hormone balancing. Schisandra does a great job of regulating our adrenal glands (the glands that help fight against stress). What’s more, schisandra can actually reduce the build-up of cortisol (the stress hormone) in our bodies.
So, if you’ve been having a hard time as of late, infusing your tea or smoothie with some of these super berries may be just what the doctor ordered.
- Improving Sex Drive – Here’s another hormonal subcategory that I think deserves its own bullet point. Schisandra helps to produce estrogen which is essential for the female sex drive, and it can stave off impotence too, so say goodbye to the oysters and get yourself some berries!
- Galvanizing Immune Systems – You’ll often hear the term “the preventative is better than the cure” being thrown around, but in schisandra’s case, it’s possible that the preventative and the cure are the same thing.
Studies have shown that the supplemental imbibing of schisandra reinforces the immune system, reducing the chances we’ll get sick in the first place — hurray!
- Fighting Fatigue – It’s a tough old world out there, and keeping up with the rat race can be exhausting. According to studies on various animals (rats included), schisandra might be just the thing we need to put a pep back in our step.
- Dietary Supplement – Studies on the effects of schisandra on mice have shown that it can increase the development of lean muscle mass and keep body fat at a healthy level.
Bear in mind that we can’t draw direct conclusions from animal testing, but even at this nascent point in the western world’s experimentation with schisandra, things are looking positive.
- Respiratory Conditions – Whether you’ve got a case of the winter coughs or you suffer from asthma, schisandra could be the breath of fresh air you’ve been waiting for.
Studies have shown that schisandra-based tonics helped to ease the symptoms of a number of respiratory issues. As an asthmatic myself, I’m especially pleased about these findings!
- Anti-Inflammatory – A little bit of inflammation is essential to recovery, but too much can be an issue. The antioxidants in schisandra help to keep swelling at a healthy level.
- Bone Strength – Want strong bones? Omit the milk, and bring some schisandra into your diet. It will help you recover from a break and even helps to stave off osteoporosis.
- Post-Op Recovery – Much like it can help our bones get on the fast track to recovery, schisandra can help pretty much any part of us heal.
- Reducing Blood Pressure – As if all these other health benefits weren’t enough, schisandra can also be instrumental in bringing blood pressure levels back into the safe zone.
Studies on rats have shown that schisandra achieves this via relaxing the cardiac vessels, thereby improving circulation.
- Fighting Liver Disease – This is probably the most common use of schisandra in the modern world. Cirrhosis or hepatitis causes the build-up of lots of fatty acids in the liver, but tests on mice have shown that schisandra will combat this unhealthy accumulation.
Furthermore, schisandra can stimulate enzymes, proteins that fast track biochemical reactions, leading to improved liver cell regeneration.
- Mental Acuity – With recent studies showing that brainteasers such as crosswords and Sudoku aren’t as effective in the fight against dementia and Alzheimer’s as we first thought, it’s nice to know schisandra has promise.
Researchers claim that this miraculous effect is due to schisandra’s uncanny ability to reduce the formation of amyloid beta peptides in the brain.
These peptides are one of the substances responsible for build-ups of amyloid plaque, which is found in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers.
- Antidepressant – There have been no conclusive tests done on humans to determine whether schisandra could be used as a natural antidepressant, but animal studies show there’s a lot of promise in this area.
- Menopause – This 2016 study shows that schisandra can be used to ease some of the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, heart palpitations, and excessive sweating.
Benefits of Schisandra – The Takeaway
Although schisandra testing is fairly limited at the moment, there’s no doubt that this is a veritable super berry with humongous medicinal potential.
The ailments I’ve listed thus far have been quite general, but there are a plethora of more specific conditions that schisandra can help with.
Things like insomnia, dysentery, night sweats, diarrhea, PMS, involuntary semen discharge, excessive thirst, excessive urination, and irritability all fall under the healing remit of schisandra.
Schisandra Dosage: How Much Should You Consume?
Eating this little red berry may be the closest we’ll get to being superhuman, but like anything else, moderation is key.
If you’ve been prescribed a schisandra-based medicine by your doctor, it’s imperative you stick to the agreed-upon dosage.
If you’re just looking to bring some schisandra into your life to keep you fit and healthy, 500 mg to 2 grams of schisandra extract daily is sufficient.
This should improve your mental acuity and physical fitness, especially if paired with a structured exercise regime.
Should you have a crude schisandra supplement rather than extract, you can up your daily intake to between 1.5 and 6 grams.
Consuming excessive amounts of schisandra isn’t deadly, but the chances are that you’ll experience either severe heartburn, an upset stomach, stomach pain, decreased appetite, skin rashes, or itching.
Up to this point, no clinical human schisandra overdoses have been reported.
How to Consume Schisandra?
Schisandra berries are safe to eat as is, but they’re not quite as sweet as the berries you may like to enjoy in your bowl of cereal in the morning.
. Popular ways of consuming schisandra include…
- Tea – Many people like to make schisandra tea. It can be bought, or you can create your own.
- Tinctures – Much like schisandra tea, tinctures can be bought pre-mixed. You can take 30 drops of these a day. Alternatively, you can make your own tincture using liquid schisandra extract and water using the ratio 1:6.
- Smoothies – Why not drizzle some of that liquid extract into your next banana and strawberry super smoothie? If your food processor is good enough, you could even sprinkle a powdered variant into your custom health shakes.
Do Not Take If…
For all its health benefits, in some instances, schisandra should be avoided. It’s best to steer clear if you…
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding – Schisandra is known to cause contractions in the uterus that may increase the chances of miscarriage. We’re currently unsure of the effects it has on breastfeeding, so it’s best avoided for now.
- Suffer from epilepsy – This isn’t set in stone as fact just yet, but it’s thought that when schisandra stimulates the nervous system, it could exacerbate epilepsy.
- Suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease or peptic ulcers – Schisandra creates quite a bit of stomach acid, which is known to worsen these conditions.
- Have high intracranial pressure – If you have high brain pressure, you should avoid schisandra for the same reasons as epileptics.
There you have it, folks; schisandra is a berry and herb used to treat a wide variety of illnesses. It’s an ancient plant, but its full impact on the modern world is yet to be seen.
If you plan on introducing schisandra to your diet, be careful not to exceed the recommended dosage, but otherwise, enjoy!